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Some Hall roads are flunking: Report card gives letter grades to measure traffic flow
Spout Springs, I-985, Dawsonville Highway rank as most congested spots
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Traffic crowds Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 near the North Lake Square shopping center. Hall County transportation planners use a “report card” system in assessing road conditions, many of which have gotten worse between 2010 and 2016, such as Interstate 985 in South Hall and Dawsonville Highway in northwest Hall. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Interstate 985 in South Hall. - photo by Scott Rogers

Plenty of technical terms abound for roads and road construction, but here’s a rather blunt one everyone should understand: F.

That’s the letter grade assigned to traffic flow on Spout Springs Road in South Hall County.

Hall County transportation officials’ rating system measures traffic conditions. Report card-style or “level of service” grades vary from very good, or A, to failing, F.

Roads report card

Grades based on traffic counts vs. traffic capacity

Dawsonville Highway at Shallowford Road

2010: C, with 25,190 vehicles a day

2016: D, with 27,100

Interstate 985

Between Spout Springs Roads and Mundy Mill Road

2010: C, with 53,090

2016: E, with 65,900

Spout Springs Road

Between Ivy Springs Drive and Iris Drive

2010: F, with 13,690

2016: F, with 16,000

Friendship Road

Between I-985 and North Bogan Road

2010: D, with 12,380

2016: B, with 15,300 (road widened to increase capacity)

The one difference among the familiar letter grades is that the grading system includes an E, which means a road is “close to or at capacity,” said Sam Baker, transportation planning manager for Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Grades aren’t arbitrarily given. Like in school, they correspond to a range of numerical scores. A 95 on a final exam, for example, will get you an A. With roads, letter grades match up with calculations based on dividing traffic volume by traffic capacity.

In a nutshell, the closer the volume is to the capacity, the worse the grade.

And letter grades are dropping in fast-growing Hall, where, in many cases, the number of cars is outpacing the road’s ability to handle the traffic.

For example, Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 at Shallowford Road has dropped from a C in 2010 to a D today.

An even sharper drop has taken place on Interstate 985 between Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch and Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood. That stretch has dropped from a C to an E over the same time period.

One of the constantly bad stretches of roadway, according to data provided by Baker, is Spout Springs Road between Ivy Springs Drive and Iris Drive in South Hall. It got an F in 2010 and is still failing today.

The good news there is that Spout Springs Road is on track for eventual widening from two lanes to four.

Right of way acquisition is underway, with construction possibly starting in a couple of years between Hog Mountain Road and Union Circle. The second phase would run from Union Circle to the Gwinnett County line, with right of way acquisition planned for 2019.

One road that has been improved since 2010 — Friendship Road/Ga. 347 in South Hall — has seen a letter grade improvement, from D to B.

“While Friendship Road’s traffic volume has increased, the road has been widened and its capacity has increased and, thus, traffic moves more freely,” Baker said.

Traffic counts in 2010 were used in the development of Hall County’s long-range Regional Transportation Plan in 2015. The plan shows current road conditions and how they could worsen by 2040 if no improvements are made.

Dawsonville Highway, with a capacity of 38,200 vehicles per day and traffic especially bottling up at McEver Road, is a prime concern.

“Our road model shows that Dawsonville Highway (level of service) ... will progressively worsen to F by year 2040, unless something is done,” Baker has said.

And I-985 “is projected to decline to F on this corridor in year 2040,” he said.

Improvements are being studied along both of those key roadways.

A study set to take place in 2018 would focus on traffic flow through the heavily commercialized Dawsonville Highway-McEver intersection but also potential connections between Dawsonville Highway and McEver.

Another DOT project in development is widening Dawsonville Highway to six lanes, with the third lane on either side serving as either a straight-through or turn lane. The project would run from Ahaluna Drive to Shallowford Road.

Preliminary engineering could get underway in fiscal 2018, which ends June 30.

Right of way acquisition also would be involved before construction, “so, we’ve got some years here,” Georgia Department of Transportation Katie Strickland has said.

Work to widen Interstate 985 to six lanes could start as early as 2022, according to the DOT.

The project, estimated at $81 million, could run from Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County to Mundy Mill Road.

“I think this widening is needed in light of our region’s projected population and employment growth,” Baker has said. “Perhaps extending the project terminus all the way to (Exit 24) should be studied during the scoping phase,” he added.